Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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LABOR, The Right to


LABOR, The Right to (IN FRENCH POLITICO-ECONOMIC HISTORY). The right to labor, that fundamental principle of the French socialistic gospel, is not the power, which belongs to all men in a free state, of making use of their own industry. The right to labor has nothing in common with the freedom of labor. The apostles of this doctrine mean by it not the unobstructed use of strength and resources, but a claim given to the individual against society. They pretend that all members of society, who have neither the knowledge nor will to create means of subsistence, have good grounds for saying to the rulers who represent and govern them, "See that I have work, for you are obliged to maintain me." It is what M. de Lamartine, believing that the principle would be accepted if he softened the name, called "the right to existence." Before passing into the crucible of science this formidable question was planted in the soil of revolution. It does not date from 1848, and has nothing new but its form.


—It is the extreme result of every strict system of public charity. It is the danger which few of the Protestant states escaped after the destruction of the monasteries. The act of the 43d year of the reign of Elizabeth planted the germ of it in English legislation. It says, "And they [overseers] shall take order from time to time * * for setting to work the children of all such whose parents shall not, by the said church wardens and overseers or the greater part of them, be thought able to keep and maintain their children; and also for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and use no ordinary daily trade of life to get their living by; and also competent sums of money for and toward the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind, and such other among them, being poor and not able to work; and also for the putting out of such children to be apprentices." The same law gives them the power to raise taxes for this purpose, which must be borne by the people of the parish, or, if this does not yield enough, by the people of the district, or, if necessary, by those of the whole county. A law of Henry VIII. had already imposed a penalty on parishes in which the weak were not aided. From this the poor clearly received the right to demand help, and to bring suit against the authorities who should refuse them assistance. English legislation, therefore, created the right to assistance, modified by the obligation of labor.


—Examples abound in French revolutionary legislation. The constitution of 1791 declared in the first clause, which enumerated the guarantees given to all citizens, that there should be created a general bureau of public aid for the purpose of bringing up foundlings, of caring for the infirm poor, and of providing work for such of the able-bodied poor as were unable to obtain it for themselves. This was borrowing from England the system of a poor tax, with the enforced building of workhouses and charity schools, but that doctrine of the constitution was not put in practice; it was, indeed, considered a dead letter. The constitution of 1793 went a step farther. Art. 21 declared that public aid was a sacred debt; and that society owed a living to unfortunate citizens, either by procuring work for them or by assuring means of life to those unable to labor. The constitution of 1793 did not limit itself, like that of 1791, to proclaiming that society owed labor, under the form of help. It demanded that the labor thus given should assure subsistence. The right to live was implied in this formula, in this duty imposed upon society. Need we add, that the radical charter of 1793, having been suspended from the date of its promulgation, to give place to the revolutionary government, it is impossible to judge by its works the new theory of public aid?


—None of the constitutions following that of 1793 reproduced this formula, but all socialistic schools, born during the transition from the old régime to the new, drew inspiration from it. Babœuf deduced from it the community of goods. In this abortive theme, in these tables of the law, broken as they came from the furnace, like an impure or defective casting, the conspirators did not cease to search for the ideal of the future republic. Even perverted science wished to fasten itself to it. It was by following the road made by Robespierre and St. Just that Fourier constructed his formula of the right to labor. He wrote in 1819 in his Théorie de l'unité Universelle, "Scripture tells us that God condemned the first man and his posterity to work in the sweat of their brow, but he did not condemn us to be deprived of that labor on which our existence depends. We can from this derive a right of man to ask philosophy and civilization not to keep from us that resource which God left us, as a last resort or punishment, and to guarantee to us at least the right to that class of labor with which we are familiar. We have passed ages thus quibbling over the rights of man without recognizing the most essential—labor, without which all others are nothing What a shame to a people who consider themselves skilled in social science! Should we not dwell upon so ignominious an error, in order to study the mind of man and the social mechanism which is to give to man all his natural rights, whose civilization can neither guarantee nor even allow the principal one, that of labor?" While exhuming and proclaiming this new right of man, Fourier still recognized that it was incompatible with social order as moulded and developed by civilization according to the mandates of Providence. We shall see later whether the reformer and his disciples succeeded better with this in the mechanism of society, and on what arguments that pretended right, which is but the negation of all others, rested. Let us prove first that the impossibility recognized by Fourier was so generally admitted that outside his school and with the exception of a single paper by M. Considérant in the "Phalange," no one before 1848 had raised the standard of the right to labor.


—The two principal theorists of the social republic had very different projects. They absorbed and engulfed that theory in more vast and ambitious conceptions. M. Cabet, renewing the utopian schemes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, placed beyond the seas the attraction of absolute community of interest. M. Louis Blanc, under the pretext of organizing labor, wished to remodel society. Fourier's thought was considered by them as wanting in greatness and as impossible of practical application. One man only, de Lamartine, in an article previous to 1844, admitted, with certain reservations, and in extreme cases, the right to labor. He had at first said, with eloquent logic, "There is no other organization of labor but its freedom, there is no other distribution of wages but that made by labor itself, remunerating itself according to its work and judging itself with an impartiality impossible to your arbitrary systems. The free will of labor in the producer, in the consumer and in the workman is as sacred as the free will of the conscience in man: touching one, you kill action; touching the other, you kill morality. The best governments are those which let it alone. Every time that it has been tampered with, an industrial catastrophe has stricken at the same time government, capitalists and working men. The law which governs them is invisible; it vanishes under the hand the moment we try to write it down." This law, on the contrary, is plainly visible; with a little attention any one can read it written in facts in brilliant characters It is the relation of supply to demand. The rate of wages regulates itself invincibly by the scarcity or abundance of labor. There is no power on earth that can raise the price of labor when unoccupied workmen throng the doors of the shops, or can lower or depress it when work presses, or the workmen are few. But after recognizing this law, although declaring it invisible, de Lamartine adds, "To sum up, we wish society to recognize the right to labor in extreme cases and under definite conditions." And the poet-economist does not see that the right to labor, which he admits, would lead surely to the organization of labor, which he had just opposed.


—Revolutions oblige men to be logical: they neither haggle over the application of theories, nor recoil from their consequences. In spite of a government which brought together weak conservatives and tribunes frightened at their own boldness, the revolution of February, 1848, proclaimed the right to labor. Feb. 26, the following decree was posted upon the walls of the capital: "The provisional government of the French republic guarantees the subsistence of the workman by labor. It agrees to guarantee labor to all citizens. It recognizes the fact that working men should associate themselves together, in order to enjoy the legitimate profit of their labor." That decree, M. Louis Blanc himself admits, was forced upon the provisional government. "Entering rudely," says he, "into the council chamber, and making his gunstock ring upon the floor, a workman came with sparkling eye and pale brow to demand in the name of the people recognition of the right to labor." This working man, in whose person M. Louis Blanc sees the incarnation of the people, was, not to wrong him, but the instrument of some member of the government who wished to force his colleagues to do what he desired. This was soon apparent from the docility with which the impulse from without was received and obeyed to the end. "Indeed, thousands of laborers," it is still M. Louis Blanc who speaks. "still black with the grime of the barricades, having filled the Place de Gréte with standards on which you could have read, Organization du travail, the organization of labor was decreed." The right to labor has produced thus historically its natural consequences. "Considering," says the decree of Feb. 28, "that revolution made by the people should be made for them; that it is time to put an end to the long and miquitous sufferings of working men; that the question of labor is of the highest importance; that there is none higher or more worthy the attention of a republican government; that it belongs particularly to France to study intently and to solve a problem had to-day before all the industrial nations of Europe; and that we must try, without any delay, to guarantee to the people the legitimate fruits of their labor—the provisional government of the republic resolves: That a permanent committee, which shall be called the committee of the government for the working man, shall be appointed with the express and peculiar mission of caring for their lot, * *."


—Here, then, is the system of the right to labor bound by law, to support all the fruit it could produce. The provisional government placed it under the shelter of the state, charged one of its members with its organization, and devoted to this end, or left at its disposition, the forces of the mob as well as that of the government. M. Louis Blanc was absolute master: what use did he make of this dictatorship? In order to give labor a new organization he commenced by making breaches in the organization which had existed from the earliest development of industry. A hateful rivalry, sown between masters and workers, by the inflammatory influence which came from Luxemburg. soon rendered discipline in shops, and, by a natural sequence, labor, impossible. The progress of industry had substituted, in a great many factories, as a measure of wages, a days task or work. The dictators of February could not pardon this method whose equity was in keeping with all interests concerned. They abolished the task or job. Master and workmen were forbidden free discussion of the conditions of wages. Soon the intervention of the state was pushed still farther. After having dictated to master and workman the manner in which labor must be carried on and paid, they wished to regulate its duration. A decree decided that the day's work should be but ten hours in every branch of industry and throughout the whole of France. Finally, after having misled the workmen, throttled the contractors, and frightened the capitalists, they talked of the state's appropriating manufactures. "To managers," said M. Louis Blanc, "who, finding themselves to-day in a failing condition, come and say to us, 'Let the state take our establishments and put itself in our places,' we reply, the state consents to do so. You shall be abundantly indemnified. But as this indemnity, which is your due, can not be taken from present resources, which would not be sufficient, it will be required of future resources. The state will give you notes, bearing interest, secured by the value of the ceded establishments, and redeemable by annuities or liquidation." The plans of M. Louis Blanc, we know but too well. were not an ephemeral inspiration. The provisional government followed up the execution of them, until they themselves made shipwreck and placed social order itself in peril. It desired to bring under the dominion of the state the large establishments of credit and labor, the banks, the insurance companies, and the railroads. Some were sequestered; others, stricken with a bottomless depreciation, awaited as a favor, derisive indemnity. The state commenced by becoming common carrier and insurer, and later became itself a producer. But as credit and money were both wanting, to pay, even at the lowest price, for all that they desired to take, it became necessary to allow those shops to close which had been disorganized. Manufacturers stopping, the workmen, whose hands were no longer busy, and to whom subsistence by work had been guaranteed, asked, amid loud cries, that this blockade of labor should be relieved. The government, which had disorganized ordinary works, saw itself under the necessity of organizing extraordinary ones.


—The Luxemburg conferences brought about, as a direct and immediate, consequence, the opening of the government workshops. M. Louis Blane need not have protested and traced back to another member of the government the thought of this outrageous creation. What difference did it make whether he had or had not signed the decree, if he had made it inevitable? I know that M. Louis Blanc imagined that he could have carried on, by the workmen of each trade, the industries from which he banished capital, and the management which was their soul. But without orders, capital holding back, and tried skill banished from them, how could factories run? To take away the director and the motive power from a factory, is to close it. Society would not know how, in any case, to improvise resources and management for all industries. Work stopping in the shops, and the dictator at Luxemburg unable to start it again where it had stopped, it became necessary in order to fulfill the guarantee given by the government, to open shops, whether useful or not, which were like a general refuge for all unemployed hands, and, to use the language of de Lamartine, a relief dépôt for the people of Paris. Indeed, all the theories of official communism were practiced there, commencing with equality of wages. All professions were placed on the same level. Labor, claimed as a right, was nowhere considered as a duty. The liberal alms given to this army of factious beggars, absorbed and exhausted rapidly the substance of society. The yards employing mechanics of the various kinds, which had gathered together hardly 6,000 men in March, 1848, had collected 87,942 just previous to the events of June. Recognition of the right to labor had brought about the conferences of Luxemburg. The conferences of Luxemburg had brought forth this great strike which found shelter and expression in the national shops. National workshops were destined to produce, and did produce, social war.


—This, then, is the result of the right to labor practically tested. Can we believe that a great assembly found it necessary to discuss it after an experience so full and decisive? Ought not the history of this heresy, in subjects connected with social economy, to have been closed after the bloody days of June? And what manifestation could have enlightened those who were unable to read the truth by the lightning flashes of such a storm? The first draft of the constitution read by Marrast from the tribune June 2, 1848, only a few days before the mob howled in the streets of the capital, asserted, in the most explicit manner, the decrees of the provisional government and the doctrines of Luxemburg. Article 7 read: "The right to labor is the right of every man to live by working. Society ought, by all productive and benevolent means at her disposal, and by those which will be subsequently organized, to furnish labor to able-bodied men who can not procure it in any other way"; and farther on, at article 9: "The right to assistance is that which belongs to foundlings, to the weak and to the aged, of receiving from the state the means of subsistence." After these articles which fixed the principles, article 132 indicated the means of application. "The main guarantees of the right to labor are liberty of labor itself, freedom to form labor associations, equality of relations between master and workman, free instruction, professional education, savings and other banks, and the establishment, by the state, of great works of public utility, to provide labor, in case of a stoppage of work, for unoccupied hands." The constitutional commission proclaimed at the same time the right to education, the right to labor and the right to assistance by the state. Society was thus about to substitute its own action and responsibility for those of the individual and the family. It took charge of man from the cradle to the grave, caring on the way for all his necessities from education to wages, opening, in a word, to all human beings, according to age, the cradle, the asylum, the school, the workshop and the hospital. These different formulæ, submitted to the examination of the bureaus, after the events of June, did not meet with that general reprobation which the indignation of the country led one to expect. Eight out of fifteen bureaus admitted the right to labor. The constitutional committee, warned by public opinion, and defeated in the preliminary debates in which the delegates of the bureaus engaged before them, thought best to modify their first draft. But at the same time they explained this forced retreat as a purely formal concession. "This formula (the right to labor)," said M. Armand Marrast, "seemed equivocal and perilous; it was feared that it would put a premium on idleness and dissipation; it was feared that legions of working men, giving to this right an extent it did not have, would consider it a right to insurrection. To these important objections is added another, more important still. If the state agrees to furnish labor to all those who have none, from one cause or another, it must give to each the kind of work to which he is adapted. So the state will become manufacturer, merchant, wholesale and retail producer. Charged with the satisfaction of all wants, it must have the monopoly of all industries. Such are the great evils which have been seen in our formula of the right to labor, and since it might lend itself to a construction so contrary to our own thought, we have wished to make the thought more clear and precise by replacing the right of the individual by the duty imposed upon society. The form is changed, but the substance remains the same."


—M. Marrast was right; the changes made did not touch the substance of things. The second draft, like the first, gave to the individual a claim against society. Here is Art. VIII. of the preamble in the edition of Aug. 29: "Society ought to protect the citizen in his person, his family, his religion, his property, his labor, and bring the education indispensable to all within the reach of all. It owes subsistence to needy citizens. either by procuring work for them to the extent of its resources, or by giving the means of subsistence to those whose families fail to provide such means for them, and who are not in a condition to work." The earnest and brilliant debate which arose before the constituent assembly did not bear upon even the text of the commission. M. Mathieu (department of Drôme) took care to furnish a field more vast by proposing the following: "The republic recognizes the right of all citizens to education, labor and assistance." When we read this discussion we remark, as its characteristic trait, a certain timidity of reasoning which did not allow the orators to come to definite conclusions. For instance, M. Mathieu (of Drôme) defends his having wished to restore the first draft of the bill, and he makes an effort to weaken the force of his amendment, by explaining that he recognized the right, but did not guarantee its operation. As if the recognition of this pretended right did not confer upon the individual the right to hold society legally responsible for its violation. M. Lédru-Rollin, who came next, gave it to be understood that there was question only of a verbal concession, a purely ideal theory. "When you do grant the right to labor, you will not be obliged to enforce it at once." Finally, de Lamartine reduced the right to labor to a question of charity, and wished that the moral zone, to use his own expression, might penetrate the legal zone. The adversaries of the right to labor, on the other hand, confined themselves to opposing the amendment of M. Mathieu (from Drôme). They reject a too explicit form, without going farther with their opposition. M. Duvergier de Hauranne accepted the draft of the commission. M. Thiers wished the state in certain cases to undertake public works, with the object of furnishing labor to the unemployed. M. Dufaure, refusing to recognize in the individual the right to demand work, imposed upon society the duty of furnishing him work or the means of subsistence. So much logic and eloquence displayed to end only in a change of words! Discussion, thus carried on on both sides, necessarily degenerated into a useless passage of arms.


—Taking advantage of the situation, at the last moment M. Glais-Bizoin weakened by a new draft the amendment of M. Mathieu (from Drôme). The right to subsistence replaced the right to labor. The subamendment was expressed in this way: "The republic recognizes the right of every citizen to existence by labor, and the right to assistance." It is proper to notice, in the interest of history, that the constituent assembly, appointed under the influence and so to speak under the threat of February, gave only 187 votes out of 783 voters to the draft of M. Glais-Bizoin. But immediately afterward, and as if it feared to have done too much, it adopted the motion of M. Dufaure himself, which had for its object "to bring into greater prominence the idea that society ought to insure subsistence to needy citizens" Here is the text of that draft which became the second paragraph of Art. VIII. of the preamble in the constitution which governed, during three years, the destinies of France: "It [the republic] ought by fraternal assistance to insure the subsistence of its needy citizens, either by procuring work for them within the limits of its resources, or in giving assistance, their families failing to give it, to those who are unable to work." We have just indicated the place occupied by the right to labor in the French parliamentary debates. After this historical statement of the facts, it remains for us to examine the theory.


—The theorists who uphold the right to labor, take, voluntarily or unwittingly. for their starting point, the sophism of Rousseau: "Everything is good when it leaves the hands of the Creator; everything degenerates in the hands of man." They suppose a state of nature existing antecedent to that of society, and a contract, by which men established social order, and reserved certain rights inherent in and essential to existence. This contract is a pure fiction. There is nothing prior to, nothing higher than, society, because outside of society the existence of man is impossible. The social scale has an infinite number of degrees, from the savage state to that of the most advanced civilization. But the exploration of the globe has shown that in no country have man and the family struggled in a state of isolation to satisfy their wants or to develop their powers; that the tribes the least polished and the most wretched had a language, traditions, principles and a government. Man and society have the same date as well as the same origin. Man can not develop himself except in the bosom of society. He brings to it nothing but the germs of his faculties, and receives everything from it. His rights flow from the same principle as his duties. The individual finds in the rights of others the limit of his own and their guarantee in the duties which are imposed on each one of his fellows. Rights, like duties, are but the expression of the relations which the social state. which destiny here below, produces among men. The individual then could not reserve, at the moment when society took him up, a pretended right to existence. He comes into it weak and naked, supported by the family and protected by the state, until he has learned to take care of himself. Arrived at the age of manhood, he sees the limits of his rights extended, and his own powers grow greater in proportion as the power of society itself increases. Enlightenment, liberty, wealth, are so many steps in the progress of the social state, in which every member of society shares. As to existence, it is all the better guaranteed to individuals in proportion as the community is wealthier, more enlightened and stronger. Take for example a hunting or even a pastoral people, who, to live, need immense tracts of land. Famine, against which they struggle painfully all their days, often carries off whole tribes. In a less imperfect state of civilization, that of the middle ages in Europe, notwithstanding the bounty of the monasteries, the difficulty of communication as well as the absence of commerce and industry, rendered a deficit, however small, in the harvests, fatal to the population of serfs. In the eighteenth century the memory of these frightful calamities still weighed so heavily on the public spirit that Turgot had to perform prodigies in order that freedom might again be given to trade in grain through the interior of France. In our days, on the contrary, human foresight has inexhaustible treasures to repair such disasters. Trade carries the cereals from the country which has reaped a superabundant harvest to those which the inclemency of the weather has stricken with temporary sterility. Industry in turn redoubles its activity to pay for the produce of the soil with the products of the factory. In a word, famine is henceforth, for the civilized people of Europe, but an accident, which serves to test the strength and excellence of European institutions. In 1847, although the deficit of the harvest was at least a fifth, and although a hectolitre of wheat was worth fifty-three francs, that is, three to four times its normal price, not an individual died of hunger in France.


—It seems, then, idle enough to try to find what the rights of an individual to existence in society may be, when we see that the advance of society has the effect of overcoming the difficulties and of multiplying and making general the means of living. What is the use of examining whether there be such a thing as the right to labor, when the freedom of labor is fully guaranteed, and when each enjoys the fruit of his own labor without question or reservation? Finally, of what interest is it to discuss the right to assistance, another form of that claim which the socialists wish to give to man against society, in a time when the foresight of public authority, more watchful and more humane than it has ever been, is studious to repair the accidents of fortune, without weakening prudence and without checking individual activity? Notwithstanding the world as it is is ignored that men may have a pretext to take refuge in an ideal world, society is divided into two classes, those who have and those who have not. A weapon is placed in the hands of both these classes, as if thus equilibrium between them could be produced. The right of labor is arrayed against the right of property. The most subtle and most complete expression of this theory is found in the writings of M. Considérant, whom we have already noticed, and whose conclusions were advocated from the tribune by M. Lédru Rollin. The following are its principal features: "The human species is placed upon the earth to live and develop there; the species is therefore the usufructuary of the surface of the globe. But by the property system of all civilized nations, land, to which the whole species has a usufructuary right, has been confiscated by the few, to the exclusion of the many. Were there, in fact, but one man excluded from his right as usufruct of the land by the nature of the property system, this exclusion alone would constitute a violation of right, and the property system which upheld it would certainly be unjust and illegitimate. The savage, in the midst of the forests and plains, enjoys the four natural rights of the chase, of fishing, of the picking of fruit, etc., and of pasture. This is the first form of right. In all civilized societies the proletarian inherits nothing and possesses nothing, is purely and simply stripped of his rights. We can not say, then, that here the primitive state has changed in form, since it no longer exists. The form has disappeared with the substance. Now, under what shape could the right be reconciled to the conditions of industrial society? The answer is easy. In the savage state, to avail himself of his right, man is obliged to act. The labors incident to hunting, fishing, the picking of fruit, etc., or pasture, are the conditions of the exercise of his right. Primitive right is, therefore. only the right to these labors. Now, let an industrial society, which has taken possession of the land, and which has taken from man the power of exercising anywhere and in freedom, upon the face of the earth, his four natural rights; let this society recognize in the individual, as compensation for the rights of which it has stripped him, the right to labor; this done, the individual has no right to complain. In fact, his primitive right was the right to labor exercised in a poor workshop, surrounded by brute nature. His present right would be the same right exercised in a shop better provided and richer, where individual activity ought to be more productive. The sine qua non of the legitimacy of property is, therefore, that society should recognize in the proletarian the right to labor, and that it should assure him at least such means of subsistence for a given amount of action, as such an amount could have procured for him in the primitive state. But has the workman, to-day, who has no work, the right to go and say to the mayor of his commune, the prefect of his department, or any other representative of society, 'There is no longer work for me at the shop where I was engaged,' or 'Wages have become so low that I can't live on them. I come, therefore, to demand work of you. at such a rate of wages that my lot may be preferable to that of the savage in the forests'? Not only is this right not recognized, not only is it not guaranteed by social institutions, but society says to the proletarian, despoiled by it of the first of his most sacred rights, of his right of usufruct in the land; it says to him: 'Find work if you can, and if you can not find it, die of hunger, but respect the property of others.' Society pushes its derision to the point of declaring guilty the man who can find no work, who can not find the means of living. Every day we throw into prison unfortunates, guilty of begging or of vagrancy, that is, guilty of having neither means nor refuge, nor the way of procuring either. The régime of property in all civilized nations is then unjust in the highest degree; it is founded on conquest, upon the taking possession, which is but permanent usurpation as long as an equivalent for their natural rights is not given to those who in fact are excluded from the use of the soil. This régime is, besides, extremely dangerous, because in nations where industry, wealth and luxury are very much developed, the proletarian can not fail sooner or later to take advantage of this spoliation to disturb society." M. Thiers ridiculed this beautiful theory, when he asked if the insurgents of June, whom they were transporting to Madagascar or to Guiana, that is, to countries in which the four pretended primitive rights—fishing, hunting, the gathering of the fruits of the earth, and pasture—are reputed to exist, rights which they say have perished in civilized society, would esteem themselves happy to return to the savage state, or if, on the contrary, they would not accuse of barbarity the power which thus imposed exile upon them. We can say as much of laborers who rejoice in their liberty and who expect their subsistence to come from labor. The most unfortunate among them would not change his lot with that of the Ojibbeways or Osages. This proves, at least, that if society has stripped man of some right, held from nature, she has given him in return gifts of a greater value. A primitive, natural right is something which belongs not to one man, not to a generation, not even to a people, but to all nations, to each generation and to every individual. More than this, the rights truly natural to man are those which the progress of civilization makes easy and develops the use of, such as the liberty of thought and that of industry. Generations, in their course through history, do not transmit to those which succeed them either fictions of chimeras. We find the abolition of the right of property which the school of Fourier imagines, nowhere recorded by tradition. Has the earth, indeed, ever existed in that state of primitive capital, independent of all value created by the labor of man? Is this not a purely abstract proposition. conceived by the mind outside the data of reason and the realities of history? Who can teach us how far civilization dates back in time? Is there in the inhabited portion of the globe a spot of earth which has no trace of man, or which in some age or other his sweat has not made fertile? In order that every individual, at birth, should be virtually invested with the right of usufruct to the earth, of the right, represented, according to M. Considérant, by the power to fish and hunt, to gather the fruits of the earth and to pasture herds, the earth would have had to support, in its primitive state, which the disciples of Fourier imagine, under the form of tribes of fishers and hunters, not alone a small number of individuals scattered over immense tracts like the Indians of America, but nations as thickly settled as are those of France and of England. But we all know that in a nomadic state a large area of country is necessary for the support of one man, while, in countries which have reached a high degree of culture, the same territory will support from 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants. What then is a right which can be exercised only in the wilderness, and in virtue of which that which is hardly sufficient to maintain one man should be bequeathed to his descendants to be shared among a thousand, two thousand, or divided into as many parts as the fecundity of the human race, as it grows, can make of it? There exists no natural right to the possession of the land in its natural state. Land belongs rightly to the person who appropriates it to himself by his labor. Labor creates property; it creates it by leaving on things the impress of man. It is human activity applied to natural forces which gives birth to capital. Here then, in the order of immovable property, is the real source of wealth. Hunting, fishing, and the other processes of the savage state, are at best but imperfect and ephemeral means of appropriation. They already suppose some action of man upon nature; this is the beginning of labor in society. Nomadic tribes divide the land among themselves; each tribe has its own territory, which thus belongs to the whole community, before it is distributed to families and individuals. Later, cultivation of the soil comes, and with it inheritance. The more value man gives to the soil, the deeper does property, as it develops, strike its roots. In the hands of the cultivator of the soil land becomes capital. Man draws this capital in a sense from himself, because capital is only an accumulation of labor. He has therefore a just right to the possession of what he has produced, and of what his fathers produced before him. Immovable capital, like movable capital, is produced by human activity; to give them another origin is to introduce a fable in the place of facts. What we should say, what is true, is that we ought not to consider property as a purely individual fact. The influence and power of society clearly cooperate, in its formation, with the action and the labor of man. Society is, in the hands of the individual, like a lever, with the assistance of which he lifts and removes burdens whose weight, without that help, would exceed his strength. Public power protects him, gives him that security which is the first implement of labor, and without which labor would be impossible. He can draw from the common fund of tradition and knowledge. Finally, he has an interest in producing, only because society opens up a market for his produce.


—The right of property is then at the same time individual and social. Property is legitimately held and transmitted only on condition of paying tribute to the state, in the form of a tax. By the same title, in countries where vast tracts remain to be cleared up, the state fixes a price at which it makes concession of land, because these tracts have already a value given them by their nearness to civilization and the guardianship exercised by power. As private property is consolidated and extended, we see the public domain—that is, undivided property, the patrimony of the entire people, the wealth common to all and which every one can enjoy at any time—grow. Means of communication and transportation increase; the police, public works, schools, libraries, monuments, all unite to render existence surer, easier and more agreeable. Each one has in reality his part in this common treasure which is not exhausted, which rather grows, and of which the state is but the dispenser for general use. No longer either privileged persons, or pariahs, and, whatever any one may say, no longer any proletarians. Every one has the right of citizenship, which is far better than the right to labor. Thus, civilization gives to the individual far more of common property that it could have taken from him of private property. Let us add, that in modern society the proprietor does not possess for himself alone. Property resembles those trees whose every branch, reaching the limit of its growth, drops to the earth again, is planted, and pushes out new shoots around it. Property produces and multiplies property. It makes capital, the instrument of labor, more and more accessible from day to day. It grafts industry upon agriculture, commerce upon industry, and credit upon commerce. This spreading of wealth makes, for acquiring and possessing, the barbarous process of confiscation, spoliation and war unnecessary. Wages wait upon labor; from wages come savings, and savings find the market of property always open. In the system of M. Considérant and of Fourier landed property would alone be under obligations, and would be exclusively burdened with the right of usufruct in the soil; for this theory leaves out personal property, a new world, which equals, if it does not exceed, the value of landed property. Personal property would thus obtain a privilege impossible to explain, and would owe nothing to society from which it receives the same protection. Principles which admit of such exceptions are not principles. No; society can not hope to buy of individuals the property which is the very condition of order. The right of property can not have for corollary, counterpoise, nor for an offset, the right to labor.


—It remains for us to show that the right to labor is the negation of the right of property, and that we can not admit the former without destroying the latter, as M. Prudhon himself admitted. We know that the author of "Economic Contradictions." the man who invented or renewed that hateful paradox, "Property is robbery," said one day to the committee on finance of 1848, in an outburst of frankness, "Give me the right to labor, and I abandon to you the right of property." The right to labor differs essentially, as M. Dufaure has noticed, from the various rights the free exercise of which it is the object of the constitutions of all countries to protect and guarantee. All these rights, in fact, are inherent in man; every individual can exercise and develop them in the sphere of his personal activity; it is a power he does not borrow, but which he draws, on the contrary, from himself, and which he only asks society to cause to be respected in him. Liberty to think, liberty to write, liberty to work and to possess, are in this condition. The right to labor, that socialistic claim, must not be confounded with the right of working, that possession of every man, of which Turgot has rightly said that it is the highest, the most sacred, the most indefeasible of all. The right of working is nothing but the freedom which belongs to every individual, of employing his reason, his hands, his time, in the manner he deems most profitable; while the right to labor, as we have already shown, is a claim given to the individual against society as a whole, or against a portion of it. In the right to labor are at the same time a right and an obligation created. It implies, between the individual and society, a contract, by whose terms society owes subsistence to each of its members—a contract not reciprocal, and which would hold but one of the parties. For while the state would have to furnish individuals, on demand, means of labor and of living by labor, it would not be armed with power of compelling them to seek by labor their usual subsistence; thus would the superiority of personal right over social right be proclaimed. The individual would become the master, the tyrant, and society the servant, the slave.


—M. Dufaure has not said too much. The right to labor is a species of servitude which is imposed on the whole community, in the interest of few or many, who would be tempted to avail themselves of it. Admitting this claim of the individual against society necessarily brings two interests face to face, and exposes them to a struggle. Suppose that society resists, the result is a battle. There is on both sides a call to arms, recourse to force is had to interpret the right. The rioters of Lyons, in 1832, blazoned on their banner this device of despair, "Live working or die fighting." Article 8 of the draft of the constitution reproduced only the first portion of the popular credo, events have brought the latter part to light; neither logic nor the force of circumstances permits of their separation. When we give a right or cause of action to individuals against society, we encourage and even justify revolt. We raise again the standard of Spartacus; we raise it in the midst of a people who know neither the separation of castes nor the difference of ranks; we proclaim civil war between members of the same political family, between equals, between brothers. Let us suppose, on the contrary, that society submits, and, accepting the right to labor, is ready to accept all the practical consequences of the principle. Let us see whither this would lead. To decree the right to labor is to make the state a purveyor for all, assurer of all fortunes and entrepreneur of all, industries. The right to labor is the right to capital, the right to wages, the right to competency; it is, in a word, the most extensive right with which individuals can be armed against the public treasury. When we go to the bottom of such a system, division of property seems a thousandfold preferable, because a community of wealth places at least on the same level the man who possesses and the man who does not; it takes, for the poor, only from the rich. and limits itself to making a new division of capital and existing incomes. The right to labor goes far beyond this; it is a seizure not only of that which is now, but of that which may be; it is not only the community of acquired wealth, but of producing power, perpetual servitude imposed upon the heads of society, in the interest of the numerous proletarians which society takes into her employ.


—The right to labor, as I have said elsewhere, implies the permanent existence and the unlimited power of production, whatever the circumstances may be, or whatever the organization of society. What value then should a principle have which is outside the limit of possibility? A social state does not exist which assures permanence or regularity of production. Let a commercial crisis come on, or some check to consumption, making the supply greater than the demand, and you will see a certain number of shops close entirely or diminish in activity. Industry, like the solar year, has its seasons; and the harvest of labor, like that of the fruits of the earth, has years of sterility as well as years of abundance. The foresight of man holds in reserve for these difficult times capital accumulated by saving, but it does not give at will impulse to the power which produces; nor does it create labor with the wave of its wand. Man can always employ his intelligence and his hands; but motion is a different thing from labor. Labor is the useful employment of forces; it is recognized by its products. To effect production at will one must be able to enlarge and contract the limits of consumption, because the most necessary products receive their value from the use which is made of them. Of what use would it be, for example, to gather quantities of grain or herds of cattle into a deserted city? And of what use would the wealth of Mexico be under circumstances in which a kilogram of silver would not procure an ounce of bread? If the troubles would stop when one had said that the workmen had a right to labor, the prescription would be simple. The state would only have to furnish funds to workshops which were about to stop, and to give orders to manufacturers to produce. But manufacturing is not all. We must find buyers for the merchandise which we create, so as not to add to the glut of the market. Production should not be increased at just the moment that the market is closed or diminished. To add in such a case to the amount of products is to depreciate them. To allay the sufferings of the present, we thus add new embarrassment to the near future.


—Socialists start from another supposition, which is not less extravagant than the first. They establish a dualism between the individual and society, instead of considering society as a union of all forces, and as the aggregate of all intellects. They make it a creature of the mind, a power apart, a fanciful person, a kind of fairy which has hidden treasures and faculties without limit. All then demand different things and more than they bring with them into the community. According to the socialistic ideal, the state always gives and never receives. Socialists refuse to understand that the state is only rich by individual wealth; that it produces only by the labor of each and every one; and finally, that its power is the result of a number and concert of wills. In a word, they forget that if the social tree bears leaves and fruit it is because it strikes its roots into the soil, and draws thence nourishing sap. Let us, nevertheless, take the right to labor as the natural right of every man who possesses nothing. Let us admit. for an instant, the fiction which invests the state with a chimerical omnipotence: how will it fulfill the obligations with which it is weighed down? This system desires that every individual who does not find employment for his intelligence or his hands. or to whom the employment which he has found does not suffice to give means of living, shall be allowed to ask from the government the work which he can not find, or a lucrative employment in the place of his labor which produces little. Thus the state would have to employ all unoccupied workmen, and make up for the insufficiency of wages. It would have to make up for a lack of demand in the market, and undertake to furnish the instruments of labor. In the social organization of France. when a prolonged stoppage occurs in manufactures, or when there are too many agricultural laborers, then, and only in extreme cases, the state and the communes open charity shops. They call upon the poor to macadamize the roads. All property owners bleed themselves to pay these workmen by their accumulated contributions. But under the system of the right to labor, things could not go on in this way. The workman armed with his absolute title, would not be content with the labor society had chosen and allotted for him. He would demand the work for which he thought himself fit, and require the most abundant remuneration. He would wish to follow his profession under the most favorable conditions: and determining the kind of employment, he would also fix the return for it. He would inform himself neither of the condition of the markets nor of the treasury. The wages that would be coming to him, a sum due to him by the state, would preserve an unvarying level. Thus the right to labor would lead to the complete exhaustion of property. This servitude would have no other end but ruin.


—In his admirable discourse upon the right to labor. M. Thiers incidentally gave an opinion with which socialists can arm themselves against him, and which is astonishing, emanating, as it did, from a mind so eminently practical. He admitted that the state holds in reserve for moments of stoppage or times of crisis, independent of great public works, a certain number of orders to distribute to industry. This would not be good, and seems hardly possible. A state, like all other consumers, buys and produces only as the wants of consumption become apparent. Its disbursements are annual, like its revenue, and it apportions them according to its political necessities. In the system marked out by M. Thiers it would reserve the progress of works and the bulk of the apportionments for calamitous times, which might not coincide with the greatest needs of the service. It might order, for example, the cloth and the linen to clothe a million soldiers, when it had not a hundred thousand men in arms. It would thus heap up in the state merchandise which would represent a large amount of capital, and it would be exposed to the danger of losing this capital through many years. It would be the same with public works. In order to develop them in times of crisis, states would have to support, during periods of prosperity, a numerous staff, to double and treble the size of the list of their officers. They would have to create, in the first place, sinecures, from which they might draw the elements of active service. when times were bad. I know of no system less national or in any way more fatal to the finances. But the gravest side to this experience is, that one would call upon the state to make its greatest effort and its greatest sacrifices under circumstances in which its resources would diminish with those of individuals. Men would place it under obligation to add one or two hundred millions to public disbursements at the very moment when the returns from direct taxation would be reduced, and when, even by paying a high rate of interest, it would be impossible to borrow. In a word, to use an expression of M. Thiers, they would ask for the largesses of the rich for a treasury which would be only the treasury of the poor.


—The right to labor carries with it the organization of labor. There is not room in a free society, and one which belongs to itself, for a proletarian aristocracy. As long as capital and property count for anything, they will protest against the chains with which socialists try to bind them. The ramparts of civilization must therefore be demolished to introduce this weapon of war. Social order must be transformed. Liberty must give place to monopoly; the action of individuals to that of the state. No more property, no more inheritance. The state must own everything, must produce everything, must distribute everything. The state must supply labor, and divide the wealth produced. The right to labor has neither sense nor value if it does not mean that every individual applying to the state to obtain employment has a right to the kind of employment for which he is best fitted; that the tiller can demand that he be given a plow to drive and land to cultivate; that the tailor shall receive orders for clothing; that the mechanician be asked to build a locomotive; that the painter be ordered to decorate palaces or churches; that the historian shall find hearers for his lessons, or readers for his writings. This supposes that the state has all rights and all power. It means that the government is the master, to regulate as it sees fit, or as the crowd sees fit for it, production and consumption, the loan of capital, the hours of labor, and the rate of wages; that in society there is no landed owner, no capitalist, no industrial and commercial manager, but the state. To have the right to labor is to have the right to wages, to wages which assure the subsistence of the workman; and as the needs of subsistence ("to each one according to his needs," said Louis Blane) vary with situations and individuals, it is having the right to wages which the laborer determines himself. Under the rule of industrial freedom no person has the right to fix the rate of wages, which follow the fluctuations of the market, and obey a law superior to the will of the employer as well as that of the employed.


—To have a right to labor is to have a right to the instruments of labor to capital and credit. The army of laborers can not do without officers to lead them, any more than the army of soldiers. These officers are produced with the freedom of industry. They are the capitalists, manufacturers, inventors, contractors, head clerks, officers. They obtain these posts through merit, or through services rendered, or because of their experience. But from the moment that the individual has the absolute right to demand employment in his own sphere of aptitude, he can also demand that he shall be placed in those conditions which are most favorable to bring his intelligence and power into play. We thus see that the right to labor in individuals supposes necessarily the monopoly of labor in the hands of the state. We go back to the childhood of society. This system treats emancipated man, man arrived at the age of liberty, of strength and of enlightenment, in the same way that man in the age of ignorance consented to be treated, by the powers which placed him under guardianship. It is a question of overturning all the processes by the aid of which civilization has progressed in the world up to the present time. This necessary consequence of the system, admitted by the most frank defenders of the right to labor, has been contested by those whom I will call neophytes ashamed of socialism. They have held, that society interfered even now in questions of labor, that this interference was legitimate, and that, having already taken upon itself to guarantee to a certain extent the profits of the capitalist, the government might, with greater reason, guarantee the workman his wages "I do not speak to you," said M. Billault, in the session of Sept. 15, 1848. "of the irregular and transitory interventions, which in trying moments weigh upon the treasury, upon the government, and end in national workshops, in riots, or in aid more or less happily distributed. It is something more normal, more permanent, which I wish you to notice. The authority of society is engaged in such a manner in all combinations of national labor that there is not a single point at which it does not touch it. It is society itself, which by these customs tariffs, by their prohibitions, differential duties, subsidies, combinations of every kind, supports, retards or advances all the combinations of national labor. It not only holds the balance between French labor, which it protects, and foreign labor; but at home the diverse industries see it often and unceasingly interfere among themselves. Listen to the perpetual claims made by one against the other before its tribunal. See, for example, the industries which use iron complaining of the protection accorded to French iron against foreign iron, those which use linen or cotton thread protesting against the protection accorded to home manufacture against the introduction of foreign thread; and so on with others. Society, therefore, thus finds itself obliged to mingle in all the struggles, in all the embarrassments of labor. It interferes in them actively every day, directly or indirectly; and the first time that you have to consider a question of customs, you will see that you will be forced, willingly or unwillingly, to take the part yourselves of all interests." M. Bastiat has pointed out the identity of tendency which exists between the protective system and communism. Indeed, protection, by means of a tariff, is a guarantee that the state, in the name of society, gives to certain industries, against similar foreign industries; and the moment this principle is admitted, all branches of national labor can claim the same assistance. If the state guarantees a minimum of profit to the capitalist, it is not easy to see why it should refuse a minimum of wages to the workman. Protection should extend to all producers under pain of degenerating into injustice. Even under this hypothesis it sacrifices consumers to producers. The state builds up the fortune and insures the well-being of one class of citizens at the expense of other classes. It takes what it gives to certain ones from the pockets of all. This is the right to labor recognized by way of a guarantee. It is the organization of labor under the form of partnership. It is indirect communism, but, after all, it is communism. Advocates of protection have nothing to urge against the theory of the right to labor. All privileges grow one from another. Only those are in a position to combat the arguments of socialists who hold that the protective system is an economic heresy, and industrial privilege an evil. Let us, however, exaggerate nothing. Protection is not a new phenomenon. It has a tendency to diminish.


—Outside of the organization of labor, which is absurd and would be impossible in any case, the right to labor becomes a simple right to assistance. In this attenuated and at the same time unreasonable form. it is recognized in France by solemn vote. The constitution of 1848 is no longer of authority in the country, but the errors which it accredited and sanctioned still remain. Right is something certain, and power something uncertain. There is boldness in attempting to establish a direct relation between these two terms in the social order. Society will do nothing which Providence has not willed. God has permitted suffering and misery in this life. The best ordered state will not be able to suppress them. Progress of well-being is incontestable. It has grown, it will grow; and our efforts should tend to augment it still more. But let us not dream of an age of gold. Society should, as far as its resources allow, and within the limits authorized by wisdom, come to the assistance of unfortunate individuals; because individual foresight does not exclude the foresight of all. We must be careful, however, not to convert the duty of society into a right of the individual. If you say that all those who have reason to complain of their lot have the right to draw assistance from a common fund, you recognize that they may call society to account. You legitimize and even preach revolt. The right to assistance must invariably lead in the long run to the demoralization of individuals, and the weakening and ruin of the state. The law of Elizabeth proclaimed this right as we have already shown—the law which gave birth to the poor tax. The poor tax in England was intelligible. It represents a priori the equivalent of spoliation exercised by the rich against the poor, by the Norman against the Saxon, and that upon the largest scale. The aristocracy divided the land by right of conquest, and confiscated to its own exclusive advantage the public wealth and the wealth of the churches. Finally. it imposed the burden of taxes upon the laboring classes, and reserved the patronage as well as the lucrative positions of the government for itself. Did it not owe a compensation in return—an indemnification to the people whom it had excluded from all the goods of this world? The poor tax was this indemnity. The evil results of the system are known. In 1832, the time when the excess of the evil had caused an attempt at reform, the support of the poor cost England and Wales more than seven millions sterling a year. A little more increase to this tax, and the revenue of the landed owner, rent, would have been absorbed by it. Yet the poor did not become rich, while they ruined and consumed the wealthy; because misery and degradation were extending insensibly to the whole country. Assistance was given instead of work, or to serve as a supplement to wages. When parishes themselves employed the poor, their labor was a farce. The result was, that, on the one hand, the working men assisted by the parishes, fell into indolent ways and into debauchery, laying upon society the duty of nourishing them, and considering the alms which they received as an acquittal of a debt due to them: on the other hand, that the free laborers and those who wished to owe to labor alone their subsistence, as well as that of their families, having to meet the competition of laborers hired by public charity, saw the rate of wages lower, and found themselves led, against their will, by the insufficiency of the remuneration which they obtained for their daily labor, to solicit the assistance of the parish. Besides, as aid was proportionate to the number of persons in each family, it was to the interest of the family to contract premature and unwise marriages, because their revenue, or rather the prize offered to their inaction, grew with the number of their children. Immorality had no longer a check, because children born outside of wedlock fell to the care of the state. The reform of 1834 gave, as a corrective to the right of assistance, the duty of labor. The administration of public aid was authorized to detain and put to work all able-bodied persons who asked aid. Houses of charity and labor thus became at the same time prisons. The wife was separated from her husband, and the mother from her child. To give to the poor a taste for labor they attempted to disgust them with alms. The prosperity of the country, and the activity of industry coming to their assistance, there was obtained in a few years a considerable saving in the department of public charity. In 1837 the support of the poor, notwithstanding the growth of the population, cost barely four millions sterling. An annual saving of three millions was the result of the reform.


—It is an axiom accepted in England under a government of which property is the essential foundation, that property has duties as well as rights. How far do these duties extend, and what is their nature? Should the owner of property support, nourish, take on himself as a burden the man who has none? Is this an obligation by natural law? a species of servitude attached to wealth? Property would perish under it. We can conceive that in a despotic government the master would be responsible for the slave, and the feudal lord would have to care for the serfs who live upon the manor, because there exists here a sort of reciprocal obligation. The serf has the right to receive support from the proprietor because the proprietor has a right to the labor of the serf; but to emancipate the laborers from the soil in the first place, afterward from the claims of monopoly, and then to by hypothecate property for their subsistence, would be a contradiction. It would be confounding the conditions of liberty with those of slavery. The social bond unites men among themselves in mutual dependence, but in making this dependence too strict, in stretching the chain beyond measure, we risk its breaking. We must not immolate the individual to society, nor a fortiori society to the individual. Let us hold aloof with equal vigilance and equal energy from communism and egotism. Let not charity cease to be a moral duty. but do not make a legal obligation of it. M. Thiers demonstrated that the right to labor once recognized would destroy emulation among laborers; that is, the principle which urges one man to do better than others, and which is the cause of progress, of wealth in individuals. M. Dufaure demonstrated that the right to assistance would destroy human forethought, that is to say, the principle upon which the future of each individual as well as the future of society rests. "When the workman," the eloquent orator said, "shall once have acquired the habit of working as people work for the state for a stipulated salary which he is always certain of drawing, his taste for labor will gradually disappear. He will fall into indolence, idleness, and into all the vices which follow as a consequence. More yet. he will set this example to his children. You will have in the country an aristocracy of indolent families to whom the state will pay salaries; which will grow larger each day, and continue to grow; an aristocracy which, on the one hand, will ruin society, and, on the other, will see little by little its courage decrease, the enervation of all its strength, and the corruption of all its better instincts. The right to labor and the right to assistance are, in the thought of the socialists who use these expressions, but means to change the distribution of wealth. The state has not the capacity to do this. The laws which regulate the distribution of wealth in the social world are above the action of public powers. The state should see that the burdens of society should be equally divided among its members in proportion to their wealth. The state should endeavor to remove the obstacles which shall stop or hinder the development of enlightenment or production; but it should never forget that if it be a collective force, if it represent the association of individuals, it is not their absorption. And after all, what is the end sought for? What is wished to be done? When the right to labor and the right to assistance are proclaimed it is hoped doubtless, by means of this seizure of the accumulated results of production and of capital of every kind, to destroy poverty. An effort may indeed be made to diminish its extent and to moderate its effects, but to go beyond this, is, in way, to condemn providence. Evil exists upon the earth. It is a consequence of human liberty. A man can be deceived in his calculations, neglect his duties, relax his efforts, disregard his true interests. After all his faults, the punishment must appear, and this punishment in this world is, morally speaking, the loss of wealth, and the loss of the esteem of his fellow-citizens. The fear of losing goods so precious is the sole rein which keeps man from utter ruin. The desire to acquire them is the real force which quickens and develops his energy. Progress is born of difficulties. By taking poverty out of the world we would be taking labor out of it, and the law of labor is the very law of existence.


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